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Fresno's Growing Dining Scene (and Visalia)

The business section in the paper a week ago Saturday Oct. 7) gave a pretty comprehensive account of new and upcoming places in the area. They mentioned the new chains of course (Cheeseflake Factory, Lemming's Stake Horse, and PF KaChing's) but it was Mama Lo's Soul Food Restaurant that was featured with a big color photo. They've been opened since last spring and serve BBQ, fried chicken, fish, black-eyed peas, chitlin's, and a great peach cobbler. 925 F St. in Chinatown.

Others noted were:

Lantana (Riverview center at Friant & Ft. Washington) has already received less than sparkling reports here, the mention in the article is focussed on their Ice Cloud seafood platter ($60/120 for sml/lrg), lobster, colossal shrimp, jumbo Alaskan king crab legs, and fresh oysters with dry-ice on top to make it smoke.

Au Lac in the Tower District on Van Ness, probably in the little business area half way to McKinley since they mention the popularity with the FCC crowd. All vegetarian menu, meat-free and dairy-free happy burger (Au Lac = happiness in Vietnamese), lemon grass veggie chicken and garlic veggie chicken. Soy and whey based meat substitutes fill in for chicken or fish.

Wasabi, at First and Herndon also opened last spring serves OMG sushi rolls for 2-3 people.

Additional openings or about to open (chains omitted), listed by location were:

Fig Garden Village: Tomodachi Japanese Grill, Tien Ju Chinese, Pangea, and Belana. Pangea was written up in the paper early this year with a projected opening in late summer/early fall, that would have small plates fusion cuisine and wine flights.

Park Place (Palm & Nees): It's a Grind, Juice Zone, and Deli Delicious

Village at Granite Park (Cedar & Hampton Way): The Shack, southern BBQ and Cajun food.

Riverview (Friant & Ft. Washington): Flamenco Tapas of Spain and Bently's Bistro (Sakanaya, Star of Siam, and Dirty Olive have been open for a while)

In the article earlier this year Casa Mariani II was listed as taking over the Vitucci's space at Herndon & Cedar with Chef Tony Mariani (from Bari) and wife Marlena (daughter of Giulia Paolilli of Giulia's) dishing up southern Italian cuisine.

Visalia changes includeTommy's, the New York Deli, and Fugazzi's, one that sticks out and might be worth a try is Crawdaddy's of Visalia billed as Louisiana cooking, Main and Bridge streets.

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  1. PB, I've done Tommy's in Visalia twice since it opened. It should be a short list spot for you also down there. A sample menu is under "food" at

    Visalia has seen a chain invasion the last 2 years as a new shopping complex opened. Some people I know there are concerned for the local restaurants so anytime we can we go that way and support someone doing something different.

    1 Reply
    1. re: FresnoFacts

      Thanks for the link to Tommy's, FF. The menu looks great and I've had them at the top of my list for a while (probably since you first mentioned them). I don't get down Visalia way too often but I may just have to drum up an excuse. Agree totally with fighting the chain epidemic every chance we get.

    2. PB: I can always count on you for exciting news about the Fresno scene! I am lucky enough to get to that area a couple of times a year on business. Fresno Facts: that Tommy's place in Visalia looks terrific. Visalia is one of my stops on business and I will make Tommy's a sure stop when I am there-- I would love to support something other than a chain resto. Thanks to both of you for some new places to try!

      2 Replies
      1. re: dimsumgirl

        Hey dsg, as long as our little dedicated pack of local hounds is around, we'll make sure you never have to eat at a chain resto again here in the central valley. Besides, you always come up with a few gems for us when we're Bay bound.

        1. re: PolarBear

          It's going to be awhile (a few months away) until I get down there to Fresno, Sanger, Visalia and Lindsay but I would love to meet up for a Fresno chowdown, maybe at Tommy's when I am there. Let me know if anyone is interested!

      2. A few years ago I dined at a very good French restaurant in Visalia... I can't remember the exact name but it was something like the The Wine Press, The Olive Press, The Olive Mill etc.,... had good Sweetbreads with an interesting sauce & other delectables... wines were fine too.

        A very respectable place that could survive in a bigger city without much problems.

        1 Reply
        1. FYI, I found Crawdaddy's website. Incomplete at this point (it officially opens Friday) so no menus loaded yet but we'll keep our eyes on it.


          Also in Visalia, the old Radisson will finish its conversion to a 4 star Marriott in December. The restaurant is supposed to be converted to "California Cuisine with Asian fusion". We'll see if that means anything or if its just a fancy name for hotel food.

          1. You beat me to a discussion of Casa Mariani's!

            I had dinner there on Thursday. It was delcious and the service was very friendly. I was impressed by the wide selection on the menu, prices, ambience, and most of all, the quality of the food. I had a pasta dish made with fresh pasta, tomatoes, basil, garlic, and I substituted prawns for the sausage. It was a large portion, easily enough for lunch the next day. It was $14, I think, and was preceded by a refreshing, interesting salad of romaine topped with chopped cucumber, apple, orange, and other veggies in a light vinaigrette. They also served antipasti in four small dishes after the salad- some lightly battered and fried eggplant and zucchini were among the offerings.

            A friend ordered the eggplant, which is layered with ground beef and a layer of small pasta noodles. It's not your mama's eggplant! She was eyeing a seafood pasta dish but had to go with the eggplant, her usual favorite. Her husband ordered pasta with veal meatballs. It looked delicious. The restaurant was very accommodating of little ones, who were served a simple pizza soon after arriving and before our dinner.

            My only complaint? I prefer sliced Italian bread to rolls.

            All in all, the food was much better than any Italian I've had in a long time (even on my trips to SoCal), except for Parma which is a different style.

            Casa Mariani
            Herndon and Cedar, next to Save-Mart

            1. I eat at NY Deli in Visalia every Friday with my office (we are also doing their new menu designs right now). I think it's too expensive, but they do have very good food. The only reason I eat there so often is because I am treated to it by my manager every Friday. The 'Brucy Boy' sandwich with extra balsamic is EXCELLENT. The chicken salad is very good too. They also make a KILLER Ruben sandwich.

              Tommy's is very good. Ate there last Thursday. I posted a review in the Tommy's thread in the 'California' boards.

              I went to Crawdaddy's last night and was very pleased...also wrote a review about that.

              I haven't been to Fugazzi's in a long while, but I used to go all the time before Visalia expanded. I HIGHLY recommend their catering. Every event I've went to that Fugazzi's catered for was very good.

              One question about Casa Mariani's...is that next to a salon called V.I.P. Salon? We're from Visalia, but half of my family goes to that salon and there's a nice looking restaurant right next door to it, which is right by a Save Mart off of Herndon. I'm wondering if that's it...

              1 Reply
              1. re: oneprimalscream

                That's Parma in the Save Mart shopping center (Herndon/Marks).

              2. I went to Flamenco last night with a companion who just returned from a trip to Barcelona. The place was packed! We started off with glasses of sangria, which was refreshing and light. We ordered several tapas, including the jamon serrano with roasted grapes, camarones con ajillo (garlic shrimp), champinones con ajillo (garlic mushrooms), and the El Dali tapas sampler. The sampler had a few bites of approximately 5 tapas, including patas bravas and croquettes.

                Everything was very fresh. The calamari on the sampler had obviously just been fried, and was crispy and hot. However, the portions are very small. Yes, I know they are tapas and not entrees.

                I was disappointed by several of the tapas. The shrimp were not garlicky at all and didn't have a whole lot of flavor. The mushrooms were small pieces and didn't have much garlic, either. I've had much better mushrooms at steakhouses.

                I promised my companion that the garlic shrimp were better elsewhere in town. So, we paid our bill and headed over to La Paella! We ordered a pitcher of white wine sangria and the garlic shrimp appetizer. It comes to the table still "en fuego." The shrimp are large, juicy, flavorful due to the garlic/butter/sherry sauce, and plentiful! They are almost the same price as the shrimp at Flamenco, but are much more flavorful. We used the bread to soak up the delicious sauce. We had a great time enjoying the live acoustic guitar and the sangria at La Paella. The service at La Paella is friendly but unobtrusive.

                Flamenco wasn't bad, but La Paella is my clear preference.

                3 Replies
                1. re: sillyrabbit

                  Thanks for the reminder sillyrabbit, we have to get back to La Paella for that great appetizer. BTW, have you tried their Zarzuela? That and the shrimp makes an excellent dinner for two.

                  1. re: uonlylive1c

                    Well, I can't say whether or not the garlic shrimp was an authentic Spanish dish, but it was delicious, and far and away better at La Paella. I know I didn't have shrimp scampi since the dominant flavor of the sauce is sherry, and is on fire when it arrives at the table.

                    I don't think La Paella has to worry too much about competition from Flamenco at this point. The service at Flamenco was only so-so (college students, who were friendly but had to be reminded of items ordered... they seem to be very excited about the Palm-Pilot type ordering system, but should concentrate on the basics) and the portions were small, even for tapas. The service at La Paella is gracious, attentive, friendly, and not intrusive. Some friends who chose Flamenco for their couples dinner party made the same comments.

                    1. re: sillyrabbit

                      Today's paper had an update on La Paella. Frank Vidal sold it last yeat to one of his employees, Jose 'Pepe' Herrera but chef Rogelio Fiero is still there. They're bringing back some old lunch items as well as adding some new that they can serve customers within 45 min (if you still want paella, call ahead they'll have it ready), and have increased the lunch hours from 11:00 AM to 2:30 PM.

                      Old favorites returning are the shrimp burger, the bocadillo de jamon asado (roast pork loin sandwich), and pescado ala Romana. New items include bocadillos and ensaladas. The article says Vidal is still around but now able to sit out front and entertain his friends.

                      The article also mentions how Artisan breads (Sat. farmers' market) has morphed, I've added it as a separate post below.

                    2. Thanks for the report, FFD, we've had this place on our radar for a few weeks, actually stopped by a few days prior to them opening the doors. Also thanks for the specific recos, only other thing I'd heard was from a friend that thought it was good (no details) but too small of portions for the price. He did qualify that saying that they had a rather large party, and since he always picks up the tab they may have gone a little wild with the menu (my opinion, not his comment). Looking forward to giving them a try.

                      1. Fresno has been a culinary leader since the 1950s due to high in-migration of many groups from around the world in large enough numbers that they needed authentic restaraunts: Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Italian, Basque, Armenian, Greek, followed by Vietnamese, Indian, Lao, and others.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          We have great ethnic food here. Despite that, lots of people still go to the same old chain restaurants. The only glaring things missing here are great breakfast spots and a solid Indian restaurant, IMHO.

                          1. re: sillyrabbit

                            s-rabbit, I grew up there before the advent of chains. Why no Indian restaurants after the huge influx of Punjabis and Sikhs in the west side?

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Yeah, the sad part is the marketing gurus figured we fit their profile and made us a test bed for every ungodly chain on the planet. Bad enough on its own but so many of the damn things still refuse to go away.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                I don't know why that is! There are lots of Sikhs in Modesto, and Modesto has some solid Indian restaurants. I've asked around, and no one seems to think we have a really good Indian place here. I've tried a few and been mostly disappointed.

                                There are so many chain restaurants here now. North Fresno is crawling with them- Mimi's, Chili's, Claim Jumper, Red Robin, Logan's, Hooters, blah blah blah

                          2. Plus too many newcomers who'd rather go to a chain they remember from their old home town (i.e. Claim Jumper from Southern California) instead of trying a local place. I've heard one too many times in the last few years "We had one of those where I used to live...."

                            1. Mrs. FT and I tried Flamenco's last night and we were impressed. Not all the dishes were great, but the service, ambience, and pretty darn good food makes a great combo. I didn't end up paying the bill (nice!), so I can't comment on the price. I would skip the paella, though--It was one of the more expensive dishes on the menu and, in my opinion, not so good.

                              Last week we tried Medeterraneo (sp?), the new place that's taken over the Daily Planet space in the Tower Theater building. It's very nice inside, the prices seem quite reasonable, and it was packed with people. The service is pretty slow since there are only three people (bartender, waitress, busboy) serving the entire restaurant. We waited at the bar for nearly ten minutes before the bartender came back from helping to serve food. Once he took our order at the bar, the food came quite quickly. We orderd small plates of mushrooms and a paella. The food was OK and overall, I think this place will make it.

                              We also recently tried Bistro Rustico on the SW corner of Palm and Bullard--taking over the old Bella Pasta space. The menu is quite expensive and, frankly, they haven't done much with the interior. The "cheap" interior, along with a location behind a Valero gas station makes it seem like the food is way overpriced for the experience. The overpriced would be OK if the food was spectacular--it isn't. The Risotto was mushy and the shrimp appetizer with a "spicy" red sauce just wasn't "spicy". More like a caneed tomato sauce.
                              Right now they don't have their liquor license, so they encourage you to bring your own wine--no corkage. Overall I doubt if they'll make it. I'm wishing them well, but we probably won't return.

                              I don't think it's open yet, but I see new signs on the old Peppermill--it looks like it's going to be a Prime Rib Restaurant.

                              1. Saw an advertisement in yesterday's Fresno Bee for a restaurant opening next month called Fahrenheit 5104. A quick search of the internet led me to an article in the Bee from last January about the restaurant. If I have the story right, Ken Patterson of Cheker's Melting Pot, which used to be downtown Fresno before they closed, is opening this new place at the corner of Shaw & West (in what used to be the China Chili restaurant).

                                Wife and I drove past this morning for a peek at their progress toward opening. Still looks to be a few weeks away. Sign out front says: Cajun, Armenian, Southern, Tapas. Normally that kind of range wouldn't bode well for a restaurant in my book (trying to be too many things means they wouldn't be much of anything) but if that formula worked at their spot downtown (or maybe it didn't?) than I'll reserve judgment until I eat there.

                                Besides, I'd be so happy to have a place that served Cajun and Southern food and/or BBQ that I really want it to be a good place, and I want them to succeed.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: alanstotle

                                  I had the same reaction you did. I'd stopped into Chekers several months back to take a look at the menu, nothing at that time really jumped out at me. I too hope that they aren't overly ambitious and make a serious attempt at some creole and cajun (or just plain southern comfort food) dishes. The parking at their old place was basically non-existent, believe the article mentioned they hoped to open mid-Feb, well anyone that's been in the business knows how that goes. Definitely ready and willing to give them a shot.

                                  1. re: PolarBear

                                    You're right that the article said they hoped to be open by mid-February. The advertisement in the Bee the other day said mid-March. Obviously they're adjusting their opening day as work progresses (or doesn't!).

                                2. As a recent arrivee to Fresno, I'm happy to have found this website to give me an insight into some of the local restuarants. I, too, am fond of seeking out new restaurants (not chains, please) and finding out what's good and what's not. My current favorite restaurant is Campagnia on Champlain & Perrin. Tonight, based on several recommendations, Mrs. LB and I are going with two friends to give the new tapas restaurant, Flamenco, a try. I'll let you know how that went.....

                                  My other favorite little find is the "Cracked Pepper Bistro". They're located across the street from the Ramada (next to 41) on the corner of Shaw & Frenso. My steak was cooked perfectly and magnificantly presented. My wife had their special that night and was also very impressed. We were disappointed that they didn't have a liqour license and we couldn't pare up some nice wines but the meal was excellent. We'll return once they able to serve alcohol. If you don't need to have a cocktail or wine with your meal, I highly recommend this place.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: legalbeagle

                                    Hey legalbeagle and welcome to Fresno. I hope you are settling into the Fresno dining scene. It looks as though you have already been to a few of the favorite spots here. I just wanted to put in a link for the report on Cracked Pepper Bistro so you could see what other hounds think about it and so you can get some info on the place. Happy reading!


                                    Please do post about your experience at Flamenco's and other places you may have enjoyed (or not enjoyed).

                                  2. While searching for a new place to bake, Artisan breads opened up Sojourner Global Village at Shaw and Marks (NW). Today's article in the Bee says much of the menu is built around fondue, hot ginger and crab (crostini w/mix of giner, crab, cream cheese, sherry & almonds) , cheese torellini (cherry tomatoes & fresh tortellini w/fontina and bleu cheese), cheddar cheese (ham cubes & bread), cheddar -gruyere-onion (mushrooms & sausages) , dark/milk/ or white chocolate (fruit, cookies & cakes), cappuccino (fruit, cookies & cakes), and raspberry cream (meringues).

                                    Other menu items are soups, salads, seafood, and "landfood" such as short rib osso bucco, roulade of beef, cioppino, and lobster in butter sauce. They are testing various European beers for the drink menu. Tues-Sun dinner, lunch 11-2 Tues-Sat. 559-251-0396

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: PolarBear

                                      Thank you so much for that heads up! I do love a good fondue.

                                      1. re: foodchick45

                                        In the interest of supporting non-chains: Triangle Drive-in on Belmont just west of 99. Clean, a trip back to 1963 (when built). A decent cheeseburger, good fries in recently-changed oil, the coffee was fair. The chap at the adjacent table enthused about their willingness to make his fave rootbeer with softserve blended in. I'll give THAT a try next time!